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I want to welcome D.B. Jackson to the blog today!  He's here to talk about his newest novel Time's Children, the first book in a new series. I'll let him give you more specifics below, but you should definitely rush out and buy it.  Right now.  I'll wait. …  And now that that's done, here's D.B. Jackson (aka David B. Coe), who' really here to talk about how writing short fiction helps write novels:

My newest novel, Time’s Children, the first book in the Islevale Cycle, has just been released by Angry Robot Books. This is a time travel, epic fantasy series, and I’m incredibly excited to see the book in print. But while Time’s Children is the first book in the new trilogy, it is not the first Islevale story I’ve had published. “The Guild of the Ancients,” a short piece set in my world and featuring one of my key characters, appeared earlier this summer in Guilds and Glaives, an anthology put out by Joshua’s publishing company, Zombies Need Brains.


I love writing short fiction, just as I love writing novels. I believe that while the two forms obviously share elements, they also present the writer with different challenges and a host of opportunities. I often suggest that writers who are just starting out take time out from their novels to write some shorter pieces. Why?


I’m glad you asked.


1) Writing short fiction helps us hone our craft. Short stories demand an economy of prose and directness of narrative that are less essential in a novel. It’s not that novels can or should be wordy or meandering, but rather that with a short story we have 6,000 words or so to tell a satisfying tale, rather than 100,000. Every detail should have purpose. Plot points should follow one upon the other. Characters should be drawn with precision and care. Prose should be clean and concise. I love the challenge of writing a good short story, just as I enjoy constructing an effective novel. But while I’m not sure writing my novels makes me better at short fiction, I know that writing short fiction has helped me grow as a storyteller and writer of novels.


2) Short stories help with our character development and world building. I sold my first short story after I had published four novels. The story I sold was about an episode from the history of the world I created for my Winds of the Forelands series. I knew the outlines of the event – a key moment in that history – but until I wrote the story, I didn’t fully understand it. That understanding informed passages in the remaining Forelands books. Similarly, my story in Guilds and Glaives features a key character in the Islevale books: the time demon, Droë. Writing from her point of view, exploring an important moment from earlier in her life, taught me a good deal about her, and also helped me refine her voice. And in between that first published story and this most recent one, I’ve used short fiction again and again to inform my novels. Think of them as research, as a way to learn more about the ingredients to be used in your larger projects.


3) Selling a short story earns us money and advances our careers. Sure, the money we earn for novels will outpace the money for short stories. No question. Novels gain more attention as well. But start with the points I’ve made above. Writing the short story serves artistic purposes – honing our craft, sharpening our sense of character and world and voice. If we can then also earn a bit for the story, well that’s gravy. More, any sort of professional sale can help a beginning writer gain the notice and consideration of editors and agents. Put another way, the money we earn for a short story is secondary to the mere fact of the sale itself. For writers who are already established, the short fiction sale may carry less significance. But speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that I still value every sale, every new credit, and every opportunity to work with a new editor.


Not every short story has to be set in a pre-existing world. They don’t all have to be practice for our larger works. And not every short story needs to be sold. (Though I would urge you to submit those stories that you feel represent your best work. What do you have to lose?)  Even if writing a short piece does nothing more than polish your writing, it’s worth the effort. Because ultimately, while all the reasons I’ve given above ought to convince you to write short fiction, those are not the most compelling reasons I can offer.


The fact is, writing short pieces, crafting workable stories with so few words, is tremendously fun and deeply satisfying. I love the novels I’ve written, and I’m proud of all of them. But some of my most memorable experiences as a professional writer have come with my shorter work. So check out “Guild of the Ancients” and the other stories in Guilds and Glaives. And then check out Time’s Children. You might enjoy that, too.



D.B. Jackson is the pen name of fantasy author David B. Coe. He is the award-winning author of twenty novels and as many short stories. His newest novel, Time’s Children, is the first volume in a time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. The book has just been released by Angry Robot Books. The second volume, Time’s Demon, will be released in May 2019.


As D.B. Jackson, he also writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has recently reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood, and, most recently, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy.


He is also currently working on a tie-in project with the History Channel. David has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages.


He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.



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I'm not having a very good writing week. Oh, it started off great on Monday. I produced 3000 words and then finished off the chapter on Tuesday. I then immediately started the next chapter and I thought I knew what was supposed to happen in that chapter. I wrote on it Tuesday, Wednesday, and yesterday and finished it off. I was excited. I'm nearing the end of the book and this was one of the exciting scenes at the end, full of drama, death, some real good "cool" factor. I formatted it and sent it off to my beta readers, happy with how it turned out. . . .

And then I started writing the next chapter, and guess what? That previous chapter, for all of its goodness and fun and creativity, isn't going to work. I mean, it works as a chapter, and there's nothing wrong with the plot elements (these things need to happen) and there's nothing wrong with the characters or their motivations (they need to do these things), but as I sat down to work on the next chapter and tried to envision the ending of the novel . . . it doesn't work. After some careful thought and not a little bit of depression, I've figured out that what's wrong is the STRUCTURE.

The ending of a novel has to have a structure. There has to be an ultimate moment, where the characters go and do what needs to be done to resolve the issues of the book, or at least deal with them as best they can, and I think what happened here is that I tried to resolve the issues a little too early. In chapter 18, I had the ultimate "Oh, shit!" moment of the book, where everything that's been building suddenly hits the fan and the characters are in the "I'm screwed" position. This is the end of part 3 of the novel. In the fourth part, they're supposed to deal with the situation. Chapter 19 was a recovery, "pick ourselves out of the rubble" chapter. There's no problem with that. But then in chapter 20 I moved directly into "dealing with the problem." And if the characters do that immediately, then the structure is screwed. I think it's all about the high points and lows of any novel. I had a high point (the ultimate high point really) of the novel in chapter 18. Chapter 19 was a lull, but it wasn't much of a breather overall. I think there needs to be a more significant "resting" period, where the characters deal with what's happened emotionally, before they can come up with a plan, charge in, and try to fix things. I think I had them charge in too early.

So today, I'm ripping chapter 20 apart. Everything in here I can pretty much keep for a later chapter, because as I said, it needs to be in the book, but I need to give the reader--and the characters--a moment alone, so to speak. They need to deal with the disaster, come to terms with it, and THEN I can send them racing in to fix it.

And in the process, I think I'll have an ending.
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One of the disadvantages of writing in the way that I do--by the seat of my pants, basically by "feel"--is that occassionally I'm humming right along with the writing (as today) and I get to the end of a scene and it's a good scene and I think it's the end of the chapter . . . but it's not. It FEELS like it could be the end of the chapter . . . but when I look at how the next chapter begins, and look at what's in this chapter, it feels like there's something missing. There's a blank spot at the end here, basically a missing scene. SOMETHING is supposed to go here and I don't know what.

So what I've been doing for the last hour or so is going over in my head what could possibly go here that I'm missing. I can't have character K (sorry, this is the secrit projekt) doing anything, because she's in the first scene in this chapter, a significant scene, and she's also in the first scene in the next chapter. I thought about moving her scene forward to take the place of the missing scene . . . but that doesn't work. That first scene in the next chapter is definitely a "first" scene and needs to stay there. And it picks up right after her scene in this chapter already, so I can't add in another new scene from K's perspective.

OK, fine, so let's think about character A. But it can't be his scene because I just FINISHED one of his scenes and nothing of significance can happen to him immediately after that scene. Some time has to pass. And since his scene is tied in with K's scene, I can't move it, and since K's next scene happens immediately, there's no space in there for a time jump. So character A is out.

In fact, based on the thought process for character A, whatever scene goes in here has to be happening simultaneously with both K and A's scenes in this chapter. So it has to be in a different location completely, so has to deal with one of the other plot threads. So I'm now considering characters D, B, Au, and H.

I can't imagine what Au would be doing after his last scene and what importance it might have so soon after that scene. He's got scenes coming, but I can get across anything that's happening of importance with him now in those scenes, so it can't be an Au scene.

B pretty much always have scenes together with D, one ordering the other one around. I don't think I've had a scene with just B alone. Maybe I could do something with that? But what? He made his thoughts clear in the last chapter. Nothing's happened to change that. But it's possible there's something going on with B here.

Same with D. Both he and B are more or less waiting on word from H, which leads me to believe that this missing scene is probably from H's perspective and should be a short little "catch-up" on what's happened with him recently. Hmm . . . perhaps the fact that he's finally caught up with character L? That might work. Advance that plot thread, since it needs to be reaching a climax here shortly. But I can't advance it too much. Character K and A's plot thread needs to advance much farther before everything can start accelerating to that climax.

Hmm . . .

Just a quick peek at the thought process of a writer flailing at the end of the chapter. *grin*
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Benjamin Tate (*grin*) has posted on scene economy when writing over at his LJ ([ profile] benjamintate). Check it out!
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My monthly blog post at APEX is now up. This time I talk about dreams and how I use them in my writing and also how useful they can be for writers, all inspired by the movie Inception. I used dreams long before I started writing heavily, including helping me solve mathematical problems when I was frustrated. I still use it for that, but it comes in handy with solving writing problems (such as plotting myself into a corner) as well.
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I've been guest blogging at various places over the last few days, so here's a quick summary of the line-up:

A discussion of how where I've lived, including upstate NY, influences my writing over a [ profile] janni's blog.

A brief little look at how I accidentally discovered the fantasy genre in the first place over at Kari Sperring's ([ profile] la_marquis_de_) website.

And finally, a post over at the APEX Books blog (which is the publisher of the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE URBAN KIND anthology, which has my short story "Mastihooba") about my initial observations regarding writing short stories versus novels.

Check them out!
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Today I sat down to start another chapter of the new book, LEAVES OF FLAME . . . and lo! I discovered that what the chapter called for was something I'd thrown out way back in January!

If you don't recall the story, I started writing this book back in January. I got about 4 or 5 chapters into it when I suddenly realized that the entire book was off, way off, and that I hadn't started it in the right spot. It just WASN'T WORKING.

So I ditched all of those chapter--everything--and started over again in a new spot with a new idea (that still leads to the plot synopsis I gave to DAW to sell the books) and this time things seemed to be working just fine.

But I hadn't forgotten those lost chapters. I kept them of course. I've learned my lesson regarding ditching material. You never know when you may need it again.

And that's what happened today. I've reached a point in the current plot where it has become obvious that I've reached the point where I started the book the first time. Of course, I can't just ship things from the January version in wholesale, because enough has happened and changed that it doesn't all make sense anymore. But I can do some salvage work.

That's what I did today. I pulled up the old chapter, reread it, and decided what would work and what wouldn't based on what's happened so far in the new version. And then I hacked the living shit out of it, lifting parts here and there wholesale, deleting pages upon pages there, and writing brand new material to make all of the pieces I kept fit. In the process, I think I've fixed some of the problems that the beta readers pointed out when they got this original version back in January.

So, in the end I ended up "writing" about 4100 words today. Not all brand new words, but new words for this version of the book. And now chapter 10 is at least a third of the way finished.

I feel good. January wasn't such a waste writing-wise after all.
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I missed this one, probably because it was posted so late at night. Another writing post from Benjamin Tate ([ profile] benjamintate), this time about word choice and how important it can be.
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A new writerly blog post by [ profile] benjamintate is up. This one's on one of his "breakthrough" moments in writing on his way to publishing, about not worrying about the words and just saying it instead.
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There's a new writer here on LJ named Benjamin Tate ([ profile] benjamintate) who you may or may not have heard of. Probably not. In any case, he's starting some posts on writing that you might find interesting.

Check the first post out here.

I may have to do an Author Introduction for this guy. *grin*

PS--I've repaired the "OMG HUGE PICTURE" problem. Sorry about that.
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This was the second panel I was on at Norwescon, but I haven't had a chance to write it up since I've been partying and such since then. *grin* However, the con is now regretfully over, so for the next few days I'll be trying to catch up on all of the activities that went on. There's still one more panel I was on to cover (about creating a balanced mythos for your world).

Again, these are my thoughts on the panel topic, and the panel covered more issues than I mention here.

This panel had quite a few panelists on it--six in all--but I felt that we all pretty much agreed on the reasons behind including, or not including, sex scenes and for how explicit you should get during those sex scenes. It's always a balancing act, and often an editor will come back to the author to ask them to either include more or less, usually with some solid reasons as to why. For example, one of the editors on the panel said they once had to ask an author to cut back on a sex scene because the explicitness and tone of the scene didn't match that of the rest of the novel. On the opposite end of the spectrum, an author I know was once told that the "fade to black" scene in the book needed to have a lot more light shed upon it because it was necessary for the reader to understand the character motivations throughout the rest of the book. So putting the right amount of sex in your book is actually something that needs discussing.

I think the first thing that needs to be considered when deciding on where to go with a sex scene (if you want it at all) is the audience of the book. If it's a cozy murder mystery, then you'll probably not be having many heavy duty explicit sex scenes in it, because the audience doesn't want, nor does it expect, that. However, if you're writing erotica, at some point the audience is going to demand some rather hot and steady and explicit sex. So the first thing to consider is the audience. This doesn't really require much thought though in the long run.

So the next thing to consider is what expectations you as the author have set up regarding the sex scenes in the novel. If you've been making a big deal about the sexual tension between two characters since the first page, and you've playing on that, then when you get to the part where those two characters are going to act on that sexual tension you can't just wave your hand and fade to black, because the readers are going to hunt you down. You've been building to this moment and you won't be able to take that moment away from them. You're going to have to include the sex scene and you'll probably have to make it rather explicit. However, if the two characters have merely been friends and circumstances have come around to a moment where that friendship has abruptly sparked into the potential for something more . . . in this instance there was no established expectation from the reader and when that moment comes you can move sex scene discretely off stage. There's no need to get explicit, so a light kiss and a giggle/chuckle as they fall into bed is enough.

Ok, so we've looked at the audience and the expectations of that audience . . . so what else must you consider before including that sex scene? Well, you've got to consider the purpose of the sex scene. If there's no purpose except to have some kind of hot, steamy sex scene that might titillate you and the reader, then you'd better think again (unless that's what the audience is expecting of course). In most novels, the sex is there for some type of character development or motivation. People in books don't just have sex; they do it because something in their character needs it, or it's going to push them into some other action later on. The character reason for the sex scene will also determine the explicitness of that scene in the book.

For example, in a recent short story I wrote, the main character was feeling lonely and isolated and useless because there was nothing that could be done to change the circumstances of the moment. Fear was high, tensions were high, and in order to escape all of these emotions she needed an outlet. The one that presented itself was sex. Because of the emotions present--the fear, the uncertainty--the scene needed to be included (no fade to black here), and it needed to be fairly explicit. Not in the sense that every thrust and lick needed to be recorded, but it needed to have a sense of urgency and feverishness to it, and that needed to come across as part of the reaction to the rather dire circumstances the characters found themselves in.

In another place and time, the same two people would have met and had a much more romantic interlude instead, one not fraught with all of these overlying tensions. In that case, I'd have included the sex scene to establish how much the two were in love with each other (in case something horrible happened between them later on), or I would have faded to black at the appropriate moment (if nothing horrible happened between them later on).

In the end, it's the character themselves and the plot that drives how explicit the sex scenes are in a particular novel or short story. What is it that the sex scene will tell us about the relationship between these two people, and how it that going to relate to their actions later on? If it's used to establish a strong bond between the two, and then later those two are driven apart, then that distance between them is going to be more intense and hurt more. If it's simply a one night stand, with no real emotional committment from either, and they're never going to see each other again, then perhaps you don't need that sex scene as much as you think. All of these things--audience, expectations from that audience, character development and motivation, and the plot--go into that final decision as to whether the sex scene matters and how explicit it should be.
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This is the first panel I was on at Norwescon, and so I thought I'd write up some of the discussion for everyone to enjoy. It turned out to be a good panel. I was the moderator, so I was slightly concerned that there wouldn't be enough "stuff" to fill up the entire hour, but it actually went rather well. The other panelists were Alma Alexander, Kevin Radthorne, A.M. Dellamonica, and Jean Johnston. I'm summarizing the panel here, and obviously won't be discussing everything we talked about, these are just my thoughts on what came up at the panel.

I think the thrust of the panel came down to the fact that just telling how your world works or doing an info-dump to set the scene, etc, isn't always the best way to get the information across and that a good writer will use the characters to get it across instead. The description of the panel suggests that the only way to do this is with dialogue, but we actually came to the conclusion that what is really needed is not just dialogue but that the characters should actually be LIVING in the world. Use them to show how the world works by having them talk to other people, or have them actually performing the ritual at the altar, or working in the fields at harvest, etc. Don't just tell us that this is how the ritual works or this is what's growing in the fields. As the characters goes about their daily life, the reader will pick up on all of the interesting little facts about the world without the writer needing to point them out. They'll just HAPPEN. This has the added benefit that it brings the character alive for the reader as well, giving them a voice and a passion and a reality that the reader wouldn't get from a rote info-dump, something that might be found in a textbook somewhere.

One of the quickest ways to do this is to start a conversation, which is why the description of the panel suggests dialogue. I use this technique all the time. In fact, I will often start out a scene or chapter with dialogue, specifically because of this. One of the pitfalls of new writers is that they begin each scene with a description of the setting, and these setting descriptions tend to be the ones that turn infodumpy on us.

Another way to get us into the scene and world and into the character is to bring in some type of conflict with the character involving that part of the worldbuilding that you want to get across. Say you have two scientists talking about how to fix the SF warp engine you've created. You don't want them to go into a lengthy description of how the engine works, because that's infodumpy, and generally it means that both scientists know how it's going to be fixed, so they wouldn't be talking about it. Instead, have the scientists disagreeing about how it should be fixed. As they argue, you can insert any of the necessary info you need about the technology without having them rotely explain it to each other. (This rote explanation is one of the pitfalls I'll talk about in a moment.)

Now, using the characters to get across info also has some drawbacks that the infodump doesn't have. One is that specific characters are only going to know about specific things, or notice specific things. So you have to keep the info you're dumping in line with the character and what he/she knows. So there are limitations. I can't have my carpenter explaining in a conversation how the sails on a ship work, for example. So using the character for that wouldn't be good. UNLESS you turn it around and have a sailor explaining how the sails work to the carpenter because he happens to be on the ship and needs to know (for example, he's been drafted because half the crew has been lost). So that's one pitfall.

Another obvious one is the "As you know, Bob . . ." syndrome, where two characters who already know everything that's going on end up discussing everything they already know amongst themselves solely for the purpose of getting that info across to the reader. You don't want this to happen. The only way you can get away with an "As you know, Bob . . ." moment is when that's the way the character operates, so it's already part of their character. As a teacher, I repeat the same information over and over again to my students because I know that even though I know it and they're supposed to know it, they need the reminder. So in a fantasy, a mentor might repeat the same info to his apprentice in a studen/teacher type of setting. You can get away with the "As you know, Bob . . ." situation there, because it's part of the character.

There are other pitfalls of course, but those are the two biggest. One of the things pointed out was that sometimes you don't WANT to have the characters get the information across. For example, if you launch into a scene where two characters are discussing their plans on how to get something done in order to get across the info on how dangerous this is, it's going to slow the story down. Sometimes, you want to just tell the reader what some of the dangers are and get to the action, because the pacing of the story demands that. So pacing is a good reason to just TELL the reader, rather than simply SHOW them. And setting is also a part that is often TOLD rather than SHOWN.

And this brought up one of the biggest problems in this situation regarding information. We discussed for a long time how to get across the info through the character's life, and when to just info-dump it, but a writer should always ask themselves at some point whether the information their trying to impart IS EVEN NECESSARY. There are certain situations in which the writer has information about their world that just isn't needed for the story, in which case it shouldn't be imparted at all, but should be cut. This happens alot with research. Writers generally put in alot of time on researching material, and they want the reader to know how much time they've spent, so they try to get as much of that cool research into the story as possible. Often, this isn't necessary in the slightest. Sometimes, it's a soapbox issue: the writer has opinions and they want those opinions to come across in the writing and so they spend time imparting the information about their opinions through the characters when that info and that opinion aren't relavent to the story. So, when a writer is trying to figure out how they should get their information across, they should also ask themselves whether it's even necessary for the story at all. If not, it should be cut.

My final comment on the panel was that you should certainly let your characters impart as much information as possible without interrupting the pacing and flow of the story simply because letting your character be free and live their lives will often surprise you as a writer. I've had many situations where I've just let the characters go and they've done things that I had never planned (consciously) and it's always made the story richer and better in the end. So let the characters live and roam freely and see what happens. You might be surprised at what you find out.
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If you look back, my last post was me complaining about the fact that a book had been released that I'd been waiting for and I didn't know . . . at least not until a few weeks after the actual release. The book was Blood in the Water by Juliet E. McKenna, and I happen to be friends with the author. I emailed her and asked if she wanted to do a guest blog here, and she said yes! Here's the cover art of the book and some thoughts Juliet has on the main character of the book, women in fantasy fiction, and other fantasy books in general.

Juliet speaks:

“That girl looks like trouble!”

Blood in the Water’s splendid cover art, courtesy of David Palumbo, has attracted a lot of comment since it first circulated. Now folk are reading the book, it’s prompting further interesting conversations. One reader has remarked, in tones of mild surprise, ‘Women really are central to the whole revolution. I mean, some of them take more risks than the men.’ Such comments have prompted the next question; ‘Is that because you’re a woman writer? Is it particularly important to you to see female characters well represented?’

I’ve been thinking about that. Yes, I’m a feminist, in the sense that I believe every woman, just like any other individual, is entitled to a peaceful happy life, to education, to work and its rewards, to recognition for their achievements, and that such entitlements should never be subject to anyone else’s judgements on their gender, race, social class, who they might happen to love, a physical impairment or anything else.

But I’m not writing Feminist Fantasy, by which I mean I’m certainly not writing with a pre-determined agenda, intent on getting My Message across. Quite apart from anything else, I saw far too many saccharine picture books crammed with Improving Moral Precepts when my children were young. The one thing they had in common was really lousy stories. The good books, the exciting ones, the ones my kids went back to time and again, were all about adventure, some challenge, the unexpected. And along the way, those books taught them unobtrusive life lessons in the way that fiction has done ever since the first story teller entertained a circle of listeners around a camp fire.

On the other hand, it is very important to me to see women properly represented in fantasy fiction. That means doing far more than playing the damsel in distress who waits around to be rescued in order to be the hero’s reward in bed in the final chapter. Because all fiction must reflect real life to truly explore the human condition and illuminate it, whether by flickering firelight or the glow of an ebook reader. These days, men and women are equals; in the workplace, in the home, in theory at least and increasingly in practise. Parenting is far more of a partnership than it ever used to be. No, things aren’t perfect but the overall trend is positive. Making sure that trend continues and accelerates requires awareness and commitment from us all.

So fantasy writers need to be very wary of the inherent traps in the Tolkien Template. By which I mean the default fantasy settings of kings and wizards determining the affairs of men in high heroic style while the women look on from the sidelines. No, I’m not blaming Tolkien personally, and I’ll defend him against accusations of sexism with more than just reference to Eowyn and Galadriel. But we must see Tolkien’s writing in the context of his day. White male privilege was the order of that day, from his service in the First World War through to the 1950s when The Lord of the Rings was first published. Historical scholarship was still dominated by the Victorian ‘Great Man’ mindset.

Any fantasy writer who unthinkingly follows that template will be reflecting the past not the present. That can only reduce the impact of their writing for a modern audience. They also lay themselves open to accusations of perpetuating outdated stereotypes and prejudices. Personally as a fantasy writer, I’m fed up of being beaten with that particular stick, just because a very few authors haven’t bothered to do their research.

Because the ‘Great Man’ theory of history is as outdated as buggy whips and gas lighting. We have forty years and more of studies into social history that go behind the official version to look at rent books and receipts, at tax rolls and judicial reporting, at hospital records and all the unofficial sources which show just how active women have been historically. They’ve always been involved in decision-making from the highest to the lowest classes. Yes, they were often constrained by circumstance and biology. Visible exceptions to society’s expectations might be few and far between. But they’re there, and more of them than you might imagine, always influential and especially in times of social upheaval. Women have always been involved in revolutions. They have just as much to gain and just as much to lose as the men. Because then, as now, we’re all in this together.

So that’s why Branca, Charoleia and Failla are risking life and limb in this story and while Duchess Litasse of Triolle has taken to carrying the knife that you see her brandishing on the cover of Blood in the Water.
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I recently got the page proofs for the new novel. For those unaware, there are many stages in the process of getting the book from my head to the bookshelf. There's writing it, revising it, sending it in so the editor can rip it apart, revising it again. Typically there's a copy edit stage here where the author gets to look at the changes the copy editor wants, but DAW doesn't do that unless the author requests it. (I requested this on the first book, The Skewed Throne, but determined that it wasn't worth it for the rest.) Then there's the page proofs, where you get to see what the actual pages of the book will look like and have a chance to make minor changes, such as fixing typos, changing words, perhaps some sentences, etc. But you can't change anything significant (unless it's some hideously wrong with the book that somehow made it through all of the previous stages intact). After page proofs, the author has nothing left to do but sit a fret about it coming out on the shelf and (hopefully) selling well. There's no chance to change anything after page proofs. It's out of the author's hands.

So, the book is 650 pages long and of course (this happens with every book) DAW wanted those corrections back at the office within a week. By this point, you've read and revised your book often you typically hate it and can't stand reading it any more and pretty much just want to be done with it. In this case, it's been long enough since I wrote it, revised it, and handed it back in that it was more like I was reading the book again for the first time. I actually found myself enjoying it. Except for a few things that are what the page proofs are all about.

One of the biggest things for me as a writer (and I'm certain it happens to a lot of us) is that while writing I somehow, unconsciously, get fixated on certain words. For the first book I ever wrote (unpublished) it was the word "chill." Everything was "chill"--the weather, the air, the water, the grass, skin, metal, marble, mist, light. Chill, chill, chill, chill, chill. I wrote it off as first novel syndrome and vowed it would never happen again.


In this book, it was dialogue tags. Or at least gestures surrounding dialogue tags in an attempt to give the flavor of the emotion without actually telling you what the emotion of the moment was. There was lots and lots of "snorting" usually in contempt, and "grunting" as the noncommittal or angry response. A lot of "snapping" in anger as well. My editor commented on this while she was doing her edits and had called me up for another reason (I needed to send in acknowledgments and dedication and address some issues the copy editor had brought up). She said she was changing some of them but I should look at it during page proofs. So I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to eliminate every "snort," "grunt," and "snap" in the book. I didn't eliminate them all of course, but I changed some, and changed some of the changes that I'm certain my editor made using words that didn't feel right to me in that context or whatnot. I was shocked at how many there were.

I understand how they show up of course. While you're writing, you get perhaps 3-5 pages done per day on average (for those of us with day jobs). So you make certain that nothing repeats like that in those 3-5 pages. But the next day you don't remember necessarily what you used the day before, so you make certain you don't repeat THAT day. So a week later, you may have used "snort" 7 times without realizing that it's happened within the space of 21 pages.

However, when you read the entire novel in the space of 4 days . . . things like that stick out. *grin*

And then other things pop up that you don't expect. As I mentioned earlier, I discovered that I must have been wavering on how many brothers one of my characters had because he started out with one, but a couple of chapters later he had two. He had two for a while, then it went back to one, and finally ended back with two by the end. Somehow the copy editor didn't catch this (which I totally understand because the character's brother/brothers were only mentioned maybe 8 times in the entier 650 pages). In any case, I made a final decision about how many he had and HOPEFULLY caught all of the mentions of brothers and corrected them. He only has one by the way. Children are rare in his culture/race, so it made since he'd only have one and that one would be of note and his death of even more significance.

Those were the major changes I made. There were a few others, such as typos (artchitecture instead of architecture; brathe instead of breathe; etc). There were a few missing quotes on dialogue. A few double double words, which everyone has a habit of reading over as just the one word. Things like that.

But the page proofs are now done, mailed back, and I hope all of my fixes make it into the final version of the book. I hate reading books where typos and such have not been found and removed. I've written long enough to know that NO ONE ever finds every typo and such. So having a few in a 650 book is expected. I have no delusions that I found them all. But I still hate it when they appear. Which is why I set everything aside--writing, grading, etc--in order to get the page proofs done and sent in on time in the first place.

What do I think of the book now? I can't tell. I hope everyone loves it, and loves the main character. It isn't like the Throne books. It's written in third person and has a much more epic feel to it. I'd say it's halfway between the intensely personal story of Varis from the Throne books and a grand epic fantasy series. The two sequels are supposed to push more and more into the epic field. There are parts of it really, really love. But is it good? I really just can't tell. I've read it so often and lived with it too long to be able to judge. I know I love the characters and the world and I absolutely LOVE the endings of the two parts and the magic I've introduced and how I used it, making it integral to the plot. I'm somewhat upset that the cover copy I've read of the book spoils one of the major surprises of the book (something that happens about halfway through). But I don't control the cover copy and hopefully it won't destroy the reader's enjoyment of that section.

In any case, I'm done. It's handed in and completely out of my hands. Now to get down to some serious fretting.

And the writing of the sequel of course. *grin*
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I made a rather hard decision yesterday, with the help of some friends. See, I've signed a contract with DAW for a few more books, which is great! However, that means I need to, you know, actually produce the books. Hopefully good books. So since the beginning of the year I've been working on two of them. One of them is due months before the other. The problem is that the book I'm caught up in and is basically writing itself . . . is not the one that's due next.


In any case, I'm working on the next book. And I'm working and working and working. I've now got a prologue and four chapters written on the new book. I love the prologue. The four chapters are . . . OK. They aren't bad. But they aren't great.

So my decision . . . is to chuck them all. Well, not the prologue. I'll keep that. But the chapters just aren't cutting it. I'm having a hard time getting into them and . . . well, writing, which is a fairly good sign that something is wrong. I initially thought that the "wrongness" I felt in my gut was because it was the beginning of the book and I hadn't settled into the story yet. Plus, I was introducing a new character and figured I hadn't gotten the character "figured out" just yet, so that was what was making me uneasy.

But I'm four chapters into it now and I don't think the unease is because of the character anymore. I think it's the story itself. What I have written so far is broken, and it's time to just pull it, set it aside, and start fresh.

This realization pretty much made me want to cry, because I'd just spent a month working on this (while working the day job) and chucking it meant I'd lost all of that time in some sense. And this thought made me sick. So part of me--a big part--just felt like crawling into bed and closing my eyes and NOT THINKING about it at all, and perhaps that would make it go away.

At the same time, a part of my brain had already kicked into overdrive and was figuring out what Chapter 1 should be if it wasn't supposed to be what I thought it was supposed to be. And guess what? My brain already knew. I'd already written about part of it (although that's changed slightly) in the pages I'd written.

So, I feel like I've lost something but at the same time I've regrouped and have a new destination. Hopefully a much more interesting one.

If not, then I'll have to call my editor . . . and I don't want to do that unless absolutely necessary.


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Joshua Palmatier

March 2019

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